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University of California Davis celebrates 125 years of wine research

One of the world’s most influential and longest established wine schools celebrated its 125th anniversary yesterday.

The department of viticulture and enology at the University of California at Davis was founded in 1935, two years after Prohibition was repealed. But the wine programme dates back to 1880, when a prescient state legislature instructed the university to help California’s fledgling wine industry

As part of the celebrations, a day-long programme of panels reviewed the department’s history, focussing on its contribution to shaping Californian wines and looking to its future role in ‘crafting wines for the 21st century.’

Dr. James A Wolpert, the department chairman, told an audience representing a cross-section of the wine world: ‘I don’t think there has been another agricultural industry that has been as influenced by a single institution as the grape industry of California has been influenced by UCDavis.’

Wolpert outlined the phases of the department’s contributions to California.

‘First, we researched what to plant and where to plant it,’ he told decanter.com. ‘Then, post-Prohibition, we made sure that winemaking was sound. Now, we are developing research in more troublesome issues – why wine colour isn’t stable, closures, and how to control the vegetative character of sauvignon blanc.’

Yesterday’s celebration followed the groundbreaking on 23 June of a US$90m (£49.8m) building that will house the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science on the campus, west of Sacramento – the state capital. Mondavi and his wife, Margrit, broke the ground with a gigantic corkscrew.

Clare M Hasler, the institute’s executive director, told 300 guests at that ceremony: ‘We are taking the first step toward drawing together the people, ideas and resources that will position the RMI as the global innovator in university-based wine and food programs.’

The building, to open in 2008, will house the viticulture and enology department, the food science and technology department and sensory laboratories. A teaching and research winery and a laboratory for brewing and food science will also be constructed.

The Institute was created in 2001 with a US$25m gift from Mondavi. In 2004, California’s voters approved the US$33.6m construction of the academic building. Many private donations have been given although an extra US$8.5m still needs to be raised to build the winery.

Dr. Wolpert said he hoped that once the new winery was built it would be furnished by wine industry gifts.

Written by Howard G Goldberg in New York

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